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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Rango dazzles visually, but is it for kids or adults?

After directing the hit blockbuster films Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, Gore Verbinski takes on the animation world through the charming, and surprisingly dark, endeavors of a thirsty little chameleon.

Johnny Depp provides the voice for Rango, an actor-turned-western hero who saves a small town from an evil and corrupted mayor. Of course, Rango is the only pleasant thing to hit the grim town called “Dirt”.

The relatively new hype of CGI animation, sparked by studios such as Pixar Studios and DreamWorks, has gotten Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures to ditch its conventional 2D animation for Rango. But each company has its own aesthetic and visual aspirations, and Rango is certainly a big shocker.

Rango’s look and feel is definitely more “gritty” than most, with a specific emphasis on texture and grotesque images. Each of the desert and scaly creatures appears to have lived a hard life void of water or food in the desert where the story takes place. Scales, slime, protruding eyes, bloated bellies and many other unpleasant adjectives would work perfectly to capture Rango’s rustic visual appeal.

But creating “beautiful” characters is beside the point if they do not accurately depict the plot and setting of the story. The imagery that the film portrays is often questionable. Scenes where an armadillo is run over by a car, birds are smashed by towers and bad guys are dragged away into the distant haze to his (what we presume to be) death makes it curious to what audience the film is trying to target.

There were many moments where one would ask: “Does my kid get this joke?”

Many of the adult audiences were laughing hysterically at the crudeness of the scenes. But the children seemed more amused by the laughter of their parents than by the actual scenes themselves.

Rango’s sort of humor is reminiscent of previous cartoons and animations such as Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog or even Robert Crumb’s inspired film Fritz the Cat which have a more “in your face” sort of humor. One thing is sure: you wouldn’t classify Rango as something you would see in a Pixar or DreamWorks animated family films such as Shark Tale or Up.

The humor in Rango is rooted in the bizarre and uncomfortable moments the characters are put in. There are subtle dark tones hidden underneath the dialogue that makes it feel more like an adult animated film rather than one for children.

Depending on which perspective and intentions viewers have going into the film, one will either be very shocked or intrigued by the type of characters and world Verbinski creates. Just don’t walk into this film thinking it will be a completely picturesque, family film. There is a fine line that Verbinski treads that might leave some parents feeling a little uneasy.

One concrete conclusion can be made: Verbinski and his team of writers and animators were not afraid to be bold and capture a completely different aesthetic in an animated film.

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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